Published on Nov. 15, 2016:
The Rev. Kelsey Hutto said she learned about the graffiti from an organist, who had arrived at St. David’s Episcopal Church on Sunday morning.
Hutto called the authorities and went to the central Indiana church herself, where she saw what had been spray-painted on its walls.
“HEIL TRUMP,” read one message.
Another piece of graffiti included a gay slur.
Also, there was a swastika.
“At first I was a little disheartened,” Hutto said. “Saint David’s has been very active in our community and to find that is hurtful.”
But, Hutto said, she also thought the church was probably targeted for a reason: because it strives to be inclusive and welcoming. The church’s presiding bishop has said that sometimes doing the right thing is not always the popular thing, she added.
“And so I’m taking comfort in that, and I’m trying to make sure that my congregation takes comfort in that as well,” Hutto said. “There were conversations about trying to cover everything up, but in the end, we decided that we’re proud.
“We’re proud of being targeted for the reason that we were targeted for, at least in which we think we were targeted for, which is being inclusive.”
The spray paint that appeared the first weekend after Donald Trump’s win will stay on the church’s exterior walls at least until the end of November, Hutto said.
“We believe that symbols are what you make of them,” Hutto said. “And if we decide to look at these symbols as hate and be angry and frustrated, we’re focusing on the wrong issue. And so we’ve decided to leave them up as symbols of hope, whereas if anybody in the surrounding area — or even country — sees these and knows that we were targeted because we’re inclusive and they need a safe space, then they know that Saint David’s is a safe space.”
St. David’s, which has an average Sunday attendance of about 47 people, is located in the town of Bean Blossom in Brown County, Ind. According to the Indiana secretary of state, that county went to Trump,who collected 5,015 votes to Hillary Clinton’s 2,518.
The offensive graffiti at St. David’s is among numerous incidents that have occurred in the wake of Trump’s Election Day win.
A black student at Baylor University said she was shoved by a white male while walking to class on the morning after the election. Her assailant, a fellow student, told her “no n—–s allowed on the sidewalk,” she said — then echoed Trump’s campaign slogan, declaring: “I’m just trying to make America great again.”
In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast Sunday night, Trump said that he was “so saddened to hear” that people were harassing others in his name. “And I say, ‘Stop it,’” the president-elect said. “If it — if it helps, I will say this, and I will say it right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.’”
“Just because the outside of the walls are defaced doesn’t mean that the inside has changed,” Hutto said of the vandalism at St. David’s. “We still are called to love as Christ loves us, and that’s our call, as Christians.”
Hutto started to remove the spray paint, then found herself stopping, she said. She wondered why she was covering it if she wasn’t embarrassed by it.
So she talked with a few members of the congregation, asking whether it would be offensive to keep the graffiti. Ultimately, the church decided it was important to let the vandalism stay put.
“If we cover it, if we decide that these are symbols of hate and anger, and we cover it, then we give that idea power,” Hutto said. “By leaving it up and saying, you know what, it doesn’t affect us — in fact it affects us more positively than negatively, because you’re giving us the platform to say you’re welcome, you’re welcome here — it takes that power away from those images.”
The service on the day the vandalism was discovered was difficult, Hutto said. Parishioners were hurt and saddened by what they saw. They considered the church to be a safe haven and were proud of that.
But she had already planned on preaching about how to respond to hatred, she said.
“It’s no secret that the atmosphere of hatred has kind of permeated the nation right now,” Hutto said. “And I wanted to make it clear to my congregation that just because that has happened doesn’t change who we are as Christians.”
So Hutto planned a service to talk about joy and faith. This act of vandalism, she said, “kind of added fuel to the fire.” The congregation sang “Joy to the World.” And there was a moment in the service, during a ritual for healing and reconciliation, in which there was a “visible change” in the posture of the congregation, Hutto said.
“I’ve been asked what happens if the vandals come into the church tomorrow and want to be there with us,” she said. “And I think the response is that we will forgive them, we have forgiven them, and that we love them, and they’re welcome any time.”
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